During the era of Raava, lion turtles had a close relationship with humans, who built cities on the creatures' shells to protect themselves from the spirits living in Spirit Wilds. The turtles roamed the Earth, and temporarily bestowed the ability to bend one of the four elements onto any individual that requested it for protection while venturing in the Spirit Wilds.
Being solitary creatures themselves, the lion turtles rarely interacted with each other, and as a result, the human cultures on their backs did not either, often never knowing that there were other cities at all.
After Wan was banished from his lion turtle city and proved that with the power of an element, one could survive in the Spirit Wilds, other people of his city began to do the same, leaving behind their lion turtle to keep the power of bending with them. They built their own cities on land, and decided to ward off spirits by themselves. Around the same time, Wan visited other lion turtles, who agreed to grant Wan the additional powers of air, earth, and water.
After Wan and Raava merged permanently and defeated Vaatu, the lion turtles decided their task as protectors of mankind was done and left humanity, collectively deciding that they would no longer grant bending powers.
Over the course of thousands of years, all but one of these creatures were hunted to extinction. The sole surviving creature possessed the ability to energybend, and at the end of the Hundred Year War this lion turtle found the Avatar, Aang, and gave him the ability to take away or restore bending powers.
Most of the lion turtle's body is that of a turtle; however, it has the face and paws of a lion. It has webbed feet, and its finger joints are made of soft tissue that are similar to a real-life crab's joint cover. Its rheum is not sticky or soft, and its pupil is slightly blurry, as if it has a cataract. Lion turtles can attain a great age if they are not harmed; the oldest one is the oldest known creature on Earth. If a lion turtle is allowed to age for many eras, it becomes as large as an island, and its shell becomes covered with plant and animal life. At a younger age, the lion turtle is not much bigger than a flying bison, with no plant or animal life covering it.
Notable lion turtles
The lion turtle, as its name suggests, has the body of a giant turtle and the head and forelegs of a lion.
- A lion turtle's heart equates to "twelve Appas", who weighed more than ten tons.
- The lion turtle is one of the few animals that has the ability to understand, as well as speak the human language.
- While appearing in "person" only during the season three finale of the original series, the lion turtle was referenced several times before appearing:
- It was seen in a scroll in Wan Shi Tong's Library.
- A fountain at the Northern Air Temple was in the shape of a lion turtle.
- Piandao compared Sokka's courage and heart to those of a lion turtle.
- Piandao's manor contained many lion turtle statues.
- Admiral Chan's home had a lion turtle door knocker.
- General Fong and General Sung both had pauldrons representing the head of a lion turtle as did one of Aang's battle "options".
- Aang and Sokka hid behind a lion turtle statue outside the Earth Kingdom Royal Palace while coming up with a plan to enter the party.
- Statues of a lion turtle were seen in the background when Sokka was looking for clues in the courtyard.
- Images of a lion turtle have also been observed in Republic City.
- A lion turtle appeared in the beginning of the unaired pilot as a statue behind Aang.
- A giant turtle-like being with an island, or the entire world, growing from its shell is quite popular in several mythologies.
- In Hindu mythology, Vishnu's second avatar is a giant turtle (Kurma) who holds the entire world on its back.
- All known lion turtles bore a marking on their forehead that signified the bending art they could bestow upon people.
- The spirits respectfully call the lion turtles "Ancient Ones".